Secondary Syphilis

What is secondary syphilis?

Syphilis infection is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by bacterial infection. Secondary syphilis occurs as the bacteria spread throughout the body from the site of infection. Young adults are most commonly affected. The symptoms of secondary syphilis include a rash on the skin and in the mouth, muscle aches, joint pain and a fever. Practicing safe sex helps to reduce the risk of catching syphilis. Antibiotics are used to treat the infection. With early and effective treatment, most people recover well.


Syphilis infection is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a bacteria called Treponema pallidum. If the infection is not diagnosed and treated, syphilis infections tend to cause waves of symptoms, and these are called the primary, secondary, and tertiary, or late, stages. It can take years for syphilis to progress from the first stage to the late stage. Young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 are most commonly diagnosed. Men who have sex with other men tend to be more likely to get syphilis.


The symptoms of secondary syphilis include a rash on the skin and in the mouth, muscle aches, joint pain and a fever. The rash may also be on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Some people may also lose hair from their head and face. Earlier symptoms of syphilis are a painless sore in the genital area, mouth or buttocks, and enlarged lymph nodes in the groin. These usually go away within weeks, and sometimes are not noticed. The later stages of syphilis develop slowly over years, and affect the heart, brain and other parts of body. This causes a variety of symptoms, including shortness of breath, confusion, forgetfulness, loss of coordination and nerve damage, among many others.


The diagnosis is usually made based on the symptoms, a physical examination and a blood test test for syphilis antibodies (proteins which fight infection). Many people are diagnosed by screening (testing people at risk without symptoms), because syphilis can cause no symptoms, or very unusual symptoms. If there is an ulcer present, a sample may be taken and investigated for signs of the bacteria. If the condition has progressed, tests and scans of the heart and blood vessels, the brain and spinal fluid might be done to look for signs of complications.


Syphilis is treated with antibiotics. Follow-up tests are usually done to test if the infection has been completely treated.


Practicing safe sex can prevent new syphilis infections. Pregnant women are usually screened (tested without symptoms) for syphilis to prevent passing the bacteria to their child.

Other names for secondary syphilis

  • Lues secondary state
  • Secondary lues venerea
  • Secondary syphilis infection